Are we imitating the Pak model?
September 11, 2001, was certainly a defining moment in
history, marking a catastrophe that, I had hoped, would drive home the
reality and scale of the peril of terrorism into even the most obtuse
and insular minds. This was an incident, I thought, through which destiny
was shaking up our political leadership to awaken them to these dangers.
Unfortunately, over the past month, I am yet to see a single policy
initiative or action, or even to hear a single statement from the government
or any of its constituents, or from the opposition parties, that reflects
an adequate understanding of the issue, or an articulation of the framework
of a coherent policy of response. It is a matter of shame that, with
a history that spans decades of a direct confrontation against the scourge
of terrorism, there is not a single political entity capable of defining
India's role and destiny in the global war against terrorism.
Post-September 11, the visible focus of India's policy appears to have
remained fixed on securing international, and primarily US, attention
on its grievances against Pakistan's role in fomenting terrorism on
Indian soil, and a high level of petulance has marked political and
diplomatic pronouncements and actions in this regard. The most brazen
and unfortunate incident in this enterprise was the reported artillery
action in the Akhnoor and Mendhar sectors on the eve of Colin Powell's
visit to India, and, indeed, at a time when he was present in Pakistan.
It is probable that such a major action would not have been initiated
by the local commander, and must have been approved at the highest political
It is clear, equally, that we have still to learn the basic lesson that
brinkmanship is bad policy. Pakistan's present predicament should have
been lesson enough not to follow such a course. India stands to gain
the most, in the present international context, by projecting itself
as a mature, stable democracy, deeply committed to the war against terror,
but not given to arbitrary and aimless acts of aggression, even though
the provocation be great and sustained.
Pakistan has been inclined to a policy of adventurism for much of its
existence, and has been initiating unprovoked military and unconventional
strikes across the border - including the Kargil Operation - in order
to draw international attention to its "cause" in Kashmir.
Indeed, despite the Kargil debacle, the Pakistan leadership continued
to regard this operation as a significant strategic gain because it
had, in their assessment, helped "internationalize" the issue
and play on Western insecurities by projecting Kashmir as a potential
nuclear flashpoint. But it is precisely such actions that have put the
entire Pakistan leadership on virtual trial today, placing them on a
daily diet of crow.
It now appears that a section of the Indian strategic establishment,
in a display of extraordinary immaturity, has chosen to imitate what
is demonstrably the most disastrous model to draw attention to their
case in Kashmir, and there are increasingly shrill and entirely ill-informed
demands for cross-border retaliatory action, 'hot pursuit' and the bombing
of militant camps in PoK and Pakistan.
The basic defect of the Indian response is that it reacts to transient,
often peripheral, events without any clear context of policy, institutional
memory or strategic thought. India persists in its failure to articulate
an internally coherent and consistent position, a clearly defined counter-terrorism
perspective, leaving vast spaces open for continuous destabilization
by those who benefit from the divergent assessments and perspectives
of those who temporarily control power at the Centre.
The problem, clearly, is not just with the political leadership and
the bureaucracy. Legal formalism and a total neglect of the corrosive
impact of terrorism on the fundamental institutions and functions of
democratic society have characterized the responses of the judiciary
through decades of continuously escalating violence. So much so that
the Supreme Court held even that the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was
not an act of terrorism, but a simple act of murder. India is the country
worst afflicted by terrorism in the world, and yet, "terrorism"
finds no mention on our statute books; every effort to legislate an
anti-terrorism law has met with obdurate and motivated opposition. At
a public forum, a former Chief Justice of India recently claimed that
the procedural guarantees of human rights could not be diluted even
in circumstances where the unity and integrity of the country was under
threat - ignoring entirely the reality that these procedural guarantees
had worked overwhelmingly to the benefit of those who commit unspeakable
acts of violence against the innocent. The judicial attitude has remained
in inflexible opposition to the executive branch, and to those who bear
the entire risks of the war against terrorism. It is interesting to
contrast these perspectives with the recent decision by the British
Court of Appeals, which approved the deportation of a Muslim cleric,
Shafiq-ur-Rehman, where the Law Lords remarked on "the need for
the judicial arm of government to respect the decisions of ministers
of the Crown on the question of whether support for terrorist activities
in a foreign country constitutes a threat to national security."
Worse still, we have blunted, undermined, even destroyed our instrumentalities
of response. We have wrongly and vindictively prosecuted and jailed
policemen, denying them the very procedural guarantees that are available
to any citizen of the country. In Punjab, those who did good work, those
who bore the brunt of the counter-terrorism war, have been stripped
of their ranks. On the other hand, we find that those who fostered terrorism
are welcomed into the country by political leaders, to live here in
the comfort and security that they denied to others for a decade and
a half. One of these worthies recently issued a letter supporting a
particular political party in the Majitha by-elections.
Within such a context of ambivalence it is impossible for India to chart
any consistent course, or to play a useful role, in the global war against
terror, or even to defeat terrorism on its own soil. These are not ends
that can be secured by stratagems to manipulate US and international
opinion, or by tagging India's counter-terrorism responses to the actions
of other nations. I have repeated this ad naseum, but find it necessary
to do so again: terrorism in India will have defeated by India; and
there are no short cuts or easy options in this war.
(Published in Hindustan Times,
October 19, 2001)